Siúl Iiom Ar An gCosán Atá Tógtha Agam!
Walk with me on the path I have taken!
If love is a verb, then An Cosán facilitates it.
On the 7th of May 2020, this year I was re-elected to Seanad Eireann to continue my role as a Senator representing the graduates of Trinity College Dublin. Everything I have learned on my journey through An Cosán, through the Trinity Access Programme, and from every mentor and intervention to date, makes me who I am.
Today as I sit on my bed, visualising myself being rooted into the earth, as I follow a guided meditation during the flower moon, I am reminded yet again of An Cosán. The greatest gift I left An Cosán with was meditation and sight. What was in sight was a life that went past the possibility of bearable and straight to the beginning of what it is to flourish. It was 2001 when I first became a participant of the first Young Women's Education Programme at An Cosán; I wasn't yet sixteen, my daughter had just turned one. Little did I know that developing the ability to visualise would help me tap into a power I didn't realise I possessed.
As I hear the word ‘bearable’ from the guide, I chase my thoughts for a moment as they attempt to lead me in the direction of the unbearable. So many people, communities and families spend each day just about bearing their existence. This is one of the saddest things I have ever allowed myself to think. Often we create initiatives, services and educational programmes that merely make life bearable.
Imagine from the moment you realise that you have so much more to give, to learn and to live, but the obstacles are so significant that you get tired trying to scale them. So tired, you settle on bearable. Bearable bothers me, because, we, as a society, as a nation, can change this. Since I was a child, I have wondered about these things. What does peace look like? Why is that boy allowed do that, but that girl isn't? I was the child that always asked 'why'. I soon learned that being the 'why' child was problematic.
10-year-old Me:"Why do we have to write this story on a page, when its already written out the book?"
Teacher:"Oh, why can't you just do what you are told to do, Lynn?"
Versions of this existed across my schooling and looking back now it was violent communication. It was a communication that told me, my questions weren't valid, that I wasn't valid.
13-year-old Me: "Sir, I do not understand how you got that answer, can you do it again, slower, maybe."
Teacher:"How many times do I have to show you this, you’re not paying attention, everyone else gets it."
What this told me was, I was stupid; it also made me believe I didn't pay enough attention. Both are untrue.
As I entered An Cosán, as a hurt teen, my questions mattered, my questions were an extension of me, so in turn, I mattered. It would take many years from this point; however, for that to be something could feel and not just know. The content of the modules associated with the course was secondary to the sudden realisation that I mattered. I stepped on to the path of recovery when I stepped inside An Cosán. There was a lot of damage to unearth and to heal, but I was now in a place where communication was welcome, and every day I was invited to give expression to who I was and how I felt. Learning was now something I participated in, not something that was ordered on me. For the first time in a long time, I dared to think of the possible. Underneath the dream of possible was an ethos of compassion, and I was beginning to have the courage to accept compassion without suspicion. I now work towards policies that at the core compassionate. I am always seeking to swap the bearable for the flourishing.
Ann-Louise Gilligan and Katherine Zappone founded An Cosán on a foundation of compassion and a dream of a flourishing society where girls like me grew, obtained the possible and developed into the powerful women we always should have been. Ann-Louise oozed this philosophy in her very presence. When she held your face in her hands by mere extension of her touch, you felt you could do anything.
Every thread of An Cosánhas in its essence, Ann-Louise, I can only describe it as an equanimity.
It takes a vision to create places of excellence like this, but it also requires the support of altruism. Education is the key to everything and contributing to education in such a diverse way like Atlantic Philanthropies has is crucial for a vibrant Irish society that is equitable. Much like Aristotle, I believe that education is vital for the wellbeing of society. We, working-class communities, don't just lose out by not being able to access education, but society as a whole loses out.
When some people think of education, they think of future job prospects, maybe entering the property market and hopefully doing something that you love, which are all perfectly reasonable things. However, beyond access to a quality standard of life, education gives us the tools to reflect, to listen and connect with existence in an immeasurable way. Now as a "why" adult, I am seen as a critical thinker for asking questions and an activist for demanding answers. The "why" little girl in me finally validated for who she always was.
I like to take a philosophical look at the impact of education, which I see as similar to Peter Singer, effective altruism. Peter Singer points to people like Bill Gates when explaining effective altruism: how to save as many lives as possible with a charitable donation. Well then, education must be the most altruistic of them all.
To educate a woman, you educate her whole family and to educate a community, you educate a generation. To the moment we lift entire communities is the moment we have reached genuine equality, and every act of altruism will have played its part. The ripple effects will often be invisible to the person that gives, but never unseen by the person who receives it.